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In defense of parts

Optimizing for the many

The designer becomes a designer of generating systems—each able of generating many objects—rather than the designer of individual objects.1

Since the introduction of nonstandardization to the field of architecture, we have seen a diminishing interest in the work of serialized units as a design strategy. Within nonstandard design, every building block has become different, as enabled by digital fabrication technologies and CNC manufacturing. As presented in Chapter 2, the dissolution of parts has increased design freedom through a larger formal repertoire but has done this by reducing market diversity and increasing the barrier of entry for new voices in the field. The continuous paradigm, in its capacity for trickle-down ephemeralization, has been the winning model for most of the current technological development which seeks to do “more with less” and allow for a more profitable model for corporate growth.

Parametric practice has developed a practical framework for an approach to architecture that views architecture as a singular, highly customized building that caters to the accumulation of wealth. Yet in parallel it has left open the field for designing a framework for the multitudes of buildings that make up the majority of our built environment. The ambitions of such a framework need to be able to address a larger portion of the architectural market and all non-market needs for architecture, encompassing professional and non-professional production. Such a framework should be described not only in terms of formal or technological principles but also in its capacity to be communicated and propagated among actors in the economy. The framework should also engage with ideas of openness and feedback mechanisms for adaptation, not as closed simulations that claim to engage with complexity like swarms but rather as socio-technical systems that are able to absorb contingent and variable requirements of the populations they serve.

This chapter will explore the study and development of the paradigm that was superseded by parametrics: the discrete paradigm. A reappraisal of discrete methodologies, augmented with contemporary technologies and a new critical understanding of the economics of inequality, can define an alternative, and far more inclusive, framework from that of parametric design. By reconsidering serial repetition in a new age of computation and network technologies, this chapter hopes to provide an alternative model that has the capacity to sustain a diverse multi-actor economy and challenge the coalition of larger design oligopolies.

“The Universal House is based on a fully integrated building system made of self-interlocking discrete blocks which can be plugged in in any direction, as for the claddin

FIGURE 3.1 “The Universal House is based on a fully integrated building system made of self-interlocking discrete blocks which can be plugged in in any direction, as for the cladding panels." u-Cube/Universal House, Philippe Morel, 2009.

Discrete Architecture needs to establish foundational principles that go beyond an aesthetic of granularity. While Discrete Architecture can be studied through its contribution to a compositional lineage that can be traced back to De Stijl,2 Le Modulor,3 Field Conditions4 and the Computationalism of Philippe Morel’ (Figure 3.2), it has become more urgent to reconnect the formal and fabrication concerns of the discipline to the manner in which the discipline operates in and outside the market, allowing for collective strategies that might involve actors

Philippe Morel/EZCT Architecture & Design, Chair Model 'Tl-M' after 860 generations (86,000 structural evaluations). “Studies on Optimization

FIGURE 3.2 Philippe Morel/EZCT Architecture & Design, Chair Model 'Tl-M' after 860 generations (86,000 structural evaluations). “Studies on Optimization: Computational Chair Design using Genetic Algorithms (with Hatem Hamda and Marc Schoenauer).”

beyond competition.The proposition is to prioritize the collective starting from the production of tectonics that the field is so familiar with.

A market-driven architecture has sought to increase profit from optimization finding using techniques of vertical integration enabled by large accumulations of capital. Discrete Architecture can offer a different form of optimization, an optimization for the many, that seeks to reduce the barrier of entry and generate positive externalities in the form of combinatorial surplus from the production of design.

The studies of the discrete, then, will need to focus not only on the material performance or compositional freedoms offered by a geometric paradigm but also on the possibility of architecture and design as a form of local value production that rejects extractive practices aiming for the emergence of diverse idiosyncratic architecture and the increase of standards of living as social prosperity.

 
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